The USA Eagles have a big game ahead of them with the Wallabies this Friday, so we thought we’d pump our guys up with a good old-fashioned American pep rally. For those readers unfamiliar with this bit of Americana … pep rallies combine music, cheering, motivational speeches, trash talk, and bonfires (sometimes) to support and energize a team before a major contest.

Last night we rallied with more than 550 friends on the Scots College basketball court, which was decked out in Stars and Stripes, large poster pictures of each Eagle, and hundreds of red, white, and blue ballons. As the team entered the gymnasium the Scots College First Fifteen launched the rally with a particularly exuberant haka:

The Scots College Studio Winds Orchestra, led by our good friend Andrew Stopps, warmed up the crowd with American marches and pop music. We sang the Star-Spangled Banner. I offered impertinent remarks and led the assemblage in pro-Eagles chants and several rounds of The Wave.

USA Rugby CEO Nigel Melville spoke eloquently about the wonderful welcome that the Eagles have received in New Zealand, as well as about the large number of Americans who regularly play rugby back home, noting that rugby is the fastest growing sport in America. After Nigel, Eagles Captain Todd Clever wowed the audience with his warmth and charm.

Some younger Eagles fans.

Young fans modeling USA Eagles couture.

The crowd was dominated by families with kids who clearly relished the pep rally pandemonium. Many folks arrived decked out in red, white, and blue couture. There were lots of flags, pompom waving, cheering, plenty of laughter, a bit of horseplay, some ball tossing, and nothing but smiles.

Following the short speeches the Eagles mingled with the crowd and posed for pictures. The guys signed hundreds of drink bottles, rugby balls, flags, jerseys, and hats. They seemed to enjoy every minute of their interaction with the fans. Even I got to sign a few things, including the t-shirt of one of my mates from the Wellington Special Olympics.

Todd Clever signing the US flag for fans.

Eagles Captain Todd Clever signing a flag for fans.

Of course, there were also piles of food … hamburgers, hotdogs, potato salad, cole slaw, quarts of ketchup and mustard, brownies, and a giant American flag cake. It was a like a big village picnic, and the miracle workers in the kitchen continuously refilled trays and banquet tables as quickly as the crowd emptied them.

I very much enjoyed meeting new friends and catching up with existing ones, including my mates from the New Zealand American Association, who co-sponsored the event. The NZAA runs programs throughout the year and is great fun. Please take a look at the Association’s website and consider joining. They’d love to hear from you.

Digging into the hotdogs.

Digging into the hotdogs.

Among the special VIPs in the gymnasium were Joey Shannon and his partner Trudy Munn. Joey, a native of Arizona who now lives in Wellington, was the winner of our rugby photo caption competition. I was pleased to present Joey with a Rugby World Cup ball signed by all the Eagles, and to invite Joey and Trudy to dinner at the Residence.

All in, it was a marvelous night. I was delighted by warmth and good cheer in the hall. Wellington has certainly embraced the Eagles and made them feel at home. I could see the guys drawing energy and enthusiasm from the crowd throughout the evening, and they stayed well beyond the time I had promised the coach I’d have them back on their bus.

Fingers crossed that the buzz from the rally carries full-force into Friday evening’s match.

Photo Caption winners Joey Shannon and his partner Trudy Munn with Dr McWaine and myself.

With photo caption winner Joey Shannon, his partner Trudy Munn, and Dr McWaine.

The buzz certainly carried over today into Te Papa’s USA Day. I dropped by to introduce world percussionist Tom Teasley at his concert in Te Marae, and I was pleasantly startled to see the museum filled with folks wearing cowboy hats and USA visors, clutching American flags and pompoms, and tossing Eagles-branded mini rugby balls. I knew what was on the program, but I didn’t expect to see a large group of cowboys, cheerleaders, and Marines line-dancing to country-western music on the mezzanine.

I’m signing off now to drive up to Victoria University’s Boyd Wilson Field, where the San Francisco Olympic Club ruggers from my home state of California will be playing the local Old Boys’ Pink Ginners this evening. I met the Flying O’s in the stands in New Plymouth during the USA/Russia game, and I want to see if the guys play as enthusiastically as they cheer. I’m sure they do.

I look forward to seeing everyone at Westpac Stadium on Friday. I don’t know if I’ll be able to roam the bleachers as freely as I did in New Plymouth, but I’m going to try. Say hi if you see me. And say hi to my young San Francisco friends if you bump into Captain America, a big panda in a red, white, and blue top hat, and a bunch of Uncles Sam in rugby shorts. That’s them.